Last week, three of my radio colleagues got fired, all jocks, all on the stations I work for. Their “positions were eliminated,” to use one piece of jargon favored across the industry. Call it “downsizing” or “reductions in force,” but people end up without paychecks and with uncertain futures on the cusp of the holiday season. This kind of thing frequently happens in November as ownership groups contemplate year-end financial goals and plan for the new year. In my 13-plus years with my current company, this is the third one of these I can remember. (I wrote about one of them, which happened seven years ago today, here.)
I’m just a dumb-ass part-time disc jockey. I’m not saying anything I wouldn’t say to my bosses when I tell you I don’t like what happened. They don’t either. And I’m sad for my friends. But I’m also concerned about what it means for my own role as a dumb-ass part-time disc jockey. Radio companies need fewer of us these days. For those of us who still have such jobs, there are going to be fewer hours for us to fill. I expect that the company will find a way to put my talent and abilities to good use in the altered landscape ahead, but we’re gonna have to sail closer before I can see the shape of it.
Beyond being sad for my friends, I have been trying to figure out what else I’m feeling. Maybe it’s survivor guilt. This is something radio people don’t talk about out loud, why them and not me?, as if verbalizing the idea might put a target on your back for next time (and there is always a next time). But it’s not right to feel that way. Guys like me often become more valuable after this happens. We know how to do a lot of stuff, and we can fill in the gaps. I’ve been doing that this week and will continue to do it for a while.
Maybe it’s PTSD—flashbacks to the times I’ve been fired, glimpses of the emptiness and dread that comes with it. I’ve written about that before. Even when you know it’s coming (and sometimes you do), getting fired is a terrible jolt, and that’s how I experienced it, an electric shock, like grabbing onto a live wire. Once the shock subsides, you have to decide what’s next. That process is easier if you have a working spouse or money in the bank. But you still have to make the calculation about how long you can go without a job, whether you can get one in your town, or whether you’ll have to move.
And after it happens a couple of times, another question elbows its way into consideration. It’s not unique to radio; anyone working in an industry they love in spite of themselves might ask it: should I quit this damn business and go do something that isn’t going to break my heart?
These questions, including the latter, are the ones my former colleagues are facing right now.
Another Ending: Ann and I are Wisconsin Badgers football season-ticket holders. Since 2004, we’ve sat in Section Z2, in the south end zone at Camp Randall Stadium, and gamedays are one of the things we love the best. We’ve seen Rose Bowl teams and Russell Wilson, and some of the greatest moments in the 120-plus years of football at the UW.
This Saturday, however, we will sit in Z2 for the last time.
The UW has announced that in response to demand, they’re building a new premium seating section in our end of the stadium, which will be complete in time for the 2020 season. The athletic department has promised us that we will be able to choose new seats, although we are not at the top of the new-seat priority list. Ann and I have agreed that we’ll see what we can get, but also that if they are not exactly to our liking, we’re going to give up our tickets after 16 seasons.
When the project was first announced at the stadium, with a splashy promo on the scoreboard, it was soundly booed by the people in our end, because none of us are privileged enough to sit there, despite having paid the ever-increasing fare year after year (face value on our tickets for the recent game with Iowa was $115 each, more than double what it was in 2004). Even though people like us make up the majority of game-day patrons, we’re not the people driving this bus.
Not here, and not anywhere else in America, actually.